By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Muslims began protests Friday, December 24, against plans to change Pakistan's blasphemy laws, after an Islamic leader offered nearly $6,000 for the killing of a Christian woman he accused of offending Islam.
Moulana Amjad Khan, spokesman for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal ur Rehman (JUI-F) party, confirmed that his party and other religious were involved in the rallies.
The JUI-F recently left the coalition government led by President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party amid tensions over a government ministry's recommendation to release Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.
The case has speed up a government investigation whether to change the blasphemy laws, which has led to the sentencing of Christians throughout the country. Friday's protests were encouraged by Pakistani cleric Moulana Yousaf Qureshi who announced
a financial award for anyone killing Bibi. "I will pay 500,000 rupees ($6,000) for the loyal follower of [Prophet] Muhammad who beheads Asia Bibi," he told a crowd of several hundred people earlier this month. The amount is more than six times the country's average annual wage.
Despite the pressure, President Zardari has said he would pardon Bibi, but a court has ruled that the president can't act until the sentence is confirmed by a higher court -- a process her lawyer says could take two to three years.
In November, a Pakistani court found the 45-year-old Bibi guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with Muslim fellow field workers. The offense is punishable by death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan's penal code.
Bibi and her family have denied wrongdoing.
Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, said earlier that he also believes Bibi is innocent. In statements obtained by BosNewsLife, he described the blasphemy case registered against her as "baseless", and based "on personal and religious enmity."
International rights groups have said the blasphemy legislation has been often misused to settle personal disputes. (With reporting by Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent in Pakistan. Editing by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos. Like BosNewsLife? Help us to continue. http://www.bosnewslife.com/donations Any amount is welcome).